Sean Sidky 15July2011 Yiddish Book Center
Topics Yiddish Book Center
, National Yiddish Book Center
, Wexler Oral History Project
, Jewish culture
, Sean Sidky
, Steiner Summer Program
, Dovid Bergelson
, I.L. Peretz
, Sholem Aleichem
, Jewish Identity
, Yiddish language
, Yiddish learning
, Yiddish revival and activism
, Jewish education
, Religion and ritual
, Family traditions
, Yiddish Book Center
, Summer camp
, Favorite Yiddish word
, Yiddish words
, Other languages
, Career and Professional Life
, Jewish holidays
, United States
, Food and culinary traditions
Sean Sidky was interviewed by Christa Whitney on July 15, 2011 at the Yiddish Book Center.
Run time 81 minutes 54 secondsProducer Yiddish Book Center (Yoshi)Audio/Visual sound, color
Sean Sidky has spent most of his life in Sydney, Australia, where his mother is a Yiddish professor. He was a Steiner summer student at the Yiddish Book Center the summer of 2011. Sean was born in Ohio, where his father (of Afghani decent) is a professor. After a few years in Oxford, England, he moved to Australia where his mother had been offered a Yiddish teaching position. In the home growing up, English was the main language, but his mother would use Yiddish if she wanted to, if she was mad, or if she didnât want Sean and his sister to understand.
While his family was not particularly observant, Sean recalls shabbes as a stark celebration: candle lighting, wine, brokhe (blessing), and bread. He didnât attend shul with much regularity, but does remember his motherâs Ashkenazic Hebrew and the special foods she would make for the holidays, most notably her potato kugel and hamentashn. His mother used to read classic Yiddish stories with him by such authors as Sholem Aleichem and I. L. Peretz. Sean loves literature. He currently studies Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Sydney, and itâs hard for him to choose a favorite book, or to read a story without beginning to analyze it anymore.
In Australia, it is common to have one hour of religious education per week. In elementary school, Sean was one of only three in his Judaism class. When asked later in the interview when he has felt particularly Jewish, he recalled sitting out in the hall with his fellow Jewish students while the rest of the school put on the Christmas play and sang carols. In high school, there was a large Jewish population. He remembers everyone in entire class getting along very well, unlike the stereotypes of cliques and hazing of high school.
Sean explains some of the history of the Jewish community in Australia, where Melbourne is the real center of Yiddish culture. There, Yiddish is still taught in Jewish day schools, and was even, according to Sean, included in some standardized tests in the province. The scene in Sydney is quite different, where his mother, who taught at the University of Sydney until the program was recently terminated due to lack of funding, is the heart and soul of Yiddish.
Looking back, it is a love of knowledge for the sake of knowledge that he has most learned from both of his college professor parents. From his mother, he has particularly learned to get to know each person as an individual, and not to judge.
It wasnât until college that Sean began to study Yiddish. He describes the learning of Yiddish as a window opening onto a whole new world that you canât help but love. He is especially drawn to Yiddish literature and film. He remembers the first time he read a full short storyâby Dovid Bergelsonâin the original Yiddish, and the overwhelming emotion that came with it. Yiddish literature, like any good literature, is always relevant. He especially loves Expressionism, in particular Bergelson, on whom he is doing his Steiner Summer Program research project. He likes that Yiddish film is outdated, and enjoys imagining what breadth it would have had, had it continued. The expressionist aspects of The Dybbuk make it his favorite Yiddish film of all times.
Several years ago, Sean was a founding member of the Australian Friends of Yiddish, an organization created to promote Yiddish culture in Sydney. They have already received several donations of books (up to 2500 now), and he hopes to build a Yiddish library as a center for Yiddish culture one day.
Sean found out about the Yiddish Book Center when he was exploring how to continue his Yiddish study after the University of Sydney stopped offering classes. He was overwhelmed when he first arrived by the smell of history and books. He never imagined he would have an opportunity to take classes in Yiddish five days a week, then go back to the dorms and speak Yiddish with his fellow students. Living in Yiddish has been the best part of his experience here.
At the end of the interview, Sean sings one of his favorite Yiddish songs âA mol iz geven a mayse.â He asks students to please learn Yiddish, and encourages them to join the diverse and accepting community that is the Yiddish world, where there is room for everyone.
To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit: http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/tell-your-story
To cite this interview: Sean Sidky Oral History Interview, interviewed by Christa Whitney, Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project, Karmazin Recording Studio, Yiddish Book Center, July 15, 2011. Video recording, http://archive.org/details/SeanSidky15july2011YiddishBookCenter ( [date accessed] )